Kickstarting a free, open archive of recordings of all of Chopin

Erik sez, "Three years ago, Musopen raised nearly $70,000 to create public domain recordings of works by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert, and others. Now they're running a new campaign with a simple but ambitious objective: 'To preserve indefinitely and without question everything Chopin created. To release his music for free, both in 1080p video and 24 bit 192kHz audio. This is roughly 245 pieces.'"

They need $75K. $75 gets you a letterpress listening guide. As with all crowdfunding projects, be aware that they may not deliver, though this team has a good track record on similar projects that speaks well of their chances this time. Caveat donor.

We are asking for your help to free the life's work of Frédéric Chopin.

Why now?
It is 164 years after Chopin's death. His music is well into the public domain, yet most people consume it as if it were still copyrighted: from CDs, iTunes, or Youtube videos (many of which are copyrighted). We think Chopin deserves better.

Why Chopin?
Most public domain music is limited to the classical genre (1920's and before), but the goals of Musopen are not limited to one genre, so we want an artist that has broad appeal. Among the most enduringly popular composers, Chopin stands out. He also composed an amount of music which is manageable for us to record. If we had chosen Mozart, our funding goal would have to have another zero at the end.

We also wanted an artist that would be versatile, enabling many projects to make use of his music.

It doesn't hurt that he just celebrated his 200th birthday three years ago. This is a belated gift but one we think he would appreciate.

Set Chopin Free (Thanks, Erik!)

Notable Replies

  1. Uhm. Free and open is fine, but good performances and recordings is arguably is more important -- otherwise, you might as well just preserve the sheet music.

    If it isn't a performance worth listening to, it isn't worth archiving. And I'm really not convinced it's worth video, especially given recent evidence that when we can see the performer our reaction is often strongly affected by performance skills other than musical skills.

    Toward that end, the more performances/recordings the better... but it feels to me like the priorities of this particular project are backward. Preservation is barely an issue for this music.

  2. I have crappy internet at my SO's house, so I haven't seen the video. However, this is pretty cool. I think writ large, it would be kind of variable. Just like LibriVox. Some of the recordings--maybe even most--will be amateurish and annoying but many will stand out as being on par with professional versions.

    In any case, freeing culture from the grasps of the excessively monied is a sweet sweet thing. More of this kind of thing, please, universe.

  3. It's not that Musopen's work is amatuer hour; it's more that these performances are relatively context-less in the ongoing conversation of Chopin interpretations established by recordings from Ashkenazy, Pollini, Zimmerman, Arrau, Rubinstein, Perahia, Cziffra, Lipatti, Moravec, Wild, Weissenberg, etc. This project seems fantastic for educational and encyclopedic uses, but for "serious" listening/collecting I'd rather focus on those recordings that have already earned the attention of many thousands of informed ears.

    These new Musopen performances may well win regard as top interpretations someday, but in the meantime there's plenty of great stuff available right now -- the 11-disc Rubinstein set for $20; The 17-disc DG set is $52, and features Pollini, Zimmerman, Arrau, and more. The 5-disc Ultimate Chopin set at $14 includes the Nocturnes and Ballades performed by Ashkenazy; there's many other bargains like these. (Can't resist mentioning: if you like Chopin the Lesser -- aka Scriabin -- here's a wonderful 8-disc set of piano works played by Maria Lettberg, for only $22.50.)

  4. That's sorta where I'm coming from.

    1) There really are no shortage of good recordings of good performances of any Chopin composition. Makes investing sight unseen somewhat questionable. It's unclear that a mediocre human performance is actually a lot better than nothing.

    2) There is no particular reason to believe that recordings of Chopin pieces are going to become hard to find, or overpriced, in the future. There's no shortage of interest, and no shortage of sheet music. Heck, I'm seeing a huge resurgence of interest in classical and "early" music.

    3) If your concern is that the music industry is becoming overly focused on pop and other high-profit areas... the way to fix that would seem to be to start a publishing house, not a recording house. Or to simply support the publishing houses which already paint a wide swath into the less-charted areas, and to enter into a dialog with them if you think there's something they're missing.

    I don't feel a need to support it based on the arguments they've advanced. There are better places, and reasons, to invest.

  5. Just remember, a cheap set is not the same as an "open" one. Just ask someone that needs music for an art project but doesn't want to risk being sued. Or is making a video and doesn't want Youtube to challenge and pull it down.

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